With Captain Andrew calculating time on his fingers we make our final Fiji sail to Vuda Point Marina. Marinas: with their unfamiliar tight spaces, ropes and lines for entanglement, and millions of dollars worth of sailboats just waiting to be scratched. It is the sailing fear that most gave me night terrors, especially when we first bought Sonrisa. As we make our final approach, I can see Vuda is among those most terrifying marinas I envisioned.
A narrow, shallow slot carved through reef leads us into the marina entrance. The yacht club bar overlooks the entrance allowing Mike, David and Mel from S/V Romano to heckle the helmswoman. Once inside, the area is just big enough for Sonrisa to sit in one place. The actual docking area is the shape of a circle. Each boat is tied with bow lines to the concrete wall with stern lines to buoys floating in and around the pool. I imagine the boats relaxing in a cool pool together sipping their rum cocktails and trading sea stories. Then, my mind flashes to all the horrible things that could befall us should Sonrisa’s rudder get tangled up in one of these mooring lines.
We hailed the marina as we approached, and they instructed us to come along inside. “A boat will be waiting to help you into place.” They said. Unfortunately, as Sonrisa and I try to sit in one place (an advanced-level marina task), there is no boat to greet us. In the waiting area, three boats are tied up to the only free space that appears available: One sailboat tied to a concrete wall, one sailboat tied to a dock, and one motorboat tied up at the fuel dock, so maneuvering room is limited. Each boat greets Sonrisa in turn, and she offers them a quick “oh, hey,” but keeps her attention laser focused on her job. I feather reverse throttle to bring her to a stop. The wind and movement of the water is minimal, but she is still being pushed slowly this way and that. I throttle forward for the slightest moment to give me enough momentum to point her bow up wind. Each time I put her in reverse, her stern slides to port because of the way her propeller spins. She cannot back up straight, so I position her further to the right and give myself a larger gap to the left. Feather reverse, neutral, reverse, neutral.
We spy the marina’s small boat tending to another sailboat that appears to be leaving. We continue to wait. Feather reverse, neutral, reverse, neutral. Steady.
As that sailboat leaves, we are instructed to take its place. Sonrisa and the departing vessel do that thing you do in a narrow hallway when someone isn’t quite sure on which side they should pass. You know, when you laugh awkwardly and say: “Wanna dance?” We go left, leaving just enough room for the other sailboat to squeeze past us and out the exit (which is the same as the entrance). I keep a healthy distance from the moorings on my left, make my turn, and slowly bring Sonrisa’s bow into the tiniest of slots between two other sailboats. Just enough room. I bring her to a stop and throw lines to the man in the boat, who ties Sonrisa's stern to the mooring. Andrew ties up her bow and we are all settled.
Sonrisa takes to her neighbor immediately, a ship that has already sailed 400,000 miles. We learn her owner, Don, age 85 is readying her to return to her original home in British Columbia. Don’s daughter, grandson-in-law, and another friend will help them on their journey home. Don shows us the best technique to jump from Sonrisa’s bow to the little dock attached to land. He climbs over his ship’s bow railing, stands on the rope tying his boat to the quay. His weight pushes the bow line downward and pulls his boat forward ever so slowly. At just the right moment, between the time he is too far away to reach the dock and the time the rope has sunk too low, he steps easily off the rope and onto the dock.
Did I mention Don is 85 years young? I want to be Don when I grow up.
Andrew and I head over to the bar to find a steak sandwich and a beer. We survey the boats parked between Sonrisa and the bar - as we always do in a marina - curious about their paths, admiring their quirks, and seeing if there is anyone we know. “Liberate, we know them, don’t we?” Andrew says. I confirm. No one is home, though, and so we wrack our brains to remember where we met Liberate. Tonga? Didn’t we meet a couple in a Westsail 32 in Port Maurelle?
“Great driving, Little Buddy,” Andrew tells me as we sip our beers. And I think back on the day we bought Sonrisa. Grabbing her wheel, I could feel her heavy, reliable underbelly in my hands. I successfully backed her out of her brokerage slip and motored through San Diego Bay to her new slot at Shelter Island Marina. It was only as I made the turn to our slot did we realize the light breeze was blowing crosswise and upwind to our double berthed slip. As soon as I made the turn, the wind blew Sonrisa’s bow away from the dock and toward her slip neighbor. Too far away from the dock for Andrew to jump, we puzzled for a split second about what to do next. Back out and try again?
Luckily, a gentleman with a lavish head of white hair and Scottish brogue came to our rescue. He offered his hand and Andrew tossed him a line. He gave Sonrisa a tug and she was securely into place. Sonrisa and I are a much better team, now, as proven by our entrance today.
We finish our meal and head back toward Sonrisa. A man with a lavish head of white hair and a Scottish brogue stands in the walkway chatting with fellow sailors passing by. His wife, sits on the grass beneath a shade tree.
Suddenly, I remember Liberate and her beautiful owners.
“NO WAY!” I squeal. “Holy cow, you guys!" I wave my arms above my head and everyone standing in the pathway turns to look at me. "You helped us bring our boat into the dock the very first day we bought her in San Diego. How the heck are you?”
They squint back at me, puzzle for a moment and then Ron says, “Oh yeah. I remember you.” His wife Serappia marvels at how much older we look, and then asks if I have any offspring on the boat.
We have a great time catching up, and my mind is blown. The world is so very vast, and yet, so small. With this little bit of my past crossing my wake 4.5 years and 10,000 miles later, I hear a nagging voice in my head:
We spend a few days provisioning, fixing this and that, and waiting for a good weather window. We finally find some “streaky bacon” which in America, we just call bacon. We enjoy drinks with the Romano Crew and a few good dinners with Neils and Margret from UnWind. Andrew finds all manner of modern age pirate-booty, including a flexible solar panel.
Then, it’s time to go. We need to set sail for Vanuatu soon so that we may have time to visit the volcano on Tanna and then make it to Pentacost to see the land diving ceremony that is coming to the end of its occaision this year.
On Thursday morning, we depart. We unravel the maze of ropes tying Sonrisa and back away to allow the next sailboat to enter our slip. I’m still marveling at the luck of running into Liberate when I see the familiar green boat is tied up to the customs dock. Scoots! From their blog, we knew they were on their way soon, but we didn’t know when. We shout hello to them as we slip off our Fiji Flag and secure the mooring lines. Sometimes, you run into old friends headlong, sometimes you “pass as ships in the night,” and apparently, sometimes we pass mid-day in a brightly lit, tightly packed marina.